A dark tale of ambition and betrayal set within the world of the gay porn industry, Justin Kelly’s King Cobra isn’t afraid to show you all it’s packing. Unfortunately, this particular cobra measures out at little more than an asp.
Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) is a wide-eyed teen, out to make a name for himself in the Hollywood machine. In order to make a bit of start-up money, he accepts a deal to star in a pornographic video for a successful, but relatively small-time smut merchant, played by Christian Slater. Slater’s career has undergone something of a revitalisation, following his role in USA Network’s popular but overbaked series Mr Robot. As Sean (under the pseudonym ‘Brent Corrigan’) gets roped further into the industry, personal tensions between the men run high, and the eventual decision to contact Joe (James Franco), a reckless rival porn producer, takes the story into increasingly dark territory.
“Unfortunately, this particular cobra measures out at little more than an asp”
Clayton is unfortunately a bit lacking as the lead, offering up innumerable minutes of sustained, opaque pouting. Franco also fails to impress, despite his natural, unusual charisma. Slater can walk out of the project with his head held slightly higher, offering the most nuanced character in the film, imbuing his role with a genuine pathos, of sorts. Molly Ringwald is perhaps the most left-field casting choice, enjoyable but under-used as Sean’s faraway, oblivious mother.
The actors cannot be held primarily responsible though; King Cobra is let down on the whole by a script that never really feels human. It is always dangerous to impose onto a film any perceived obligations. As John Updike states in his personal rules for criticism: ‘do not blame [the artist] for not achieving what he did not attempt’. And Kelly’s film is certainly not attempting to represent the entire gay community. But particularly in the modern era, when LGBT cinema has started to gain real momentum, it is a damning misjudgement for a film like King Cobra to largely reduce the function of gay men to loveless, spiteful sex machines. There is a sense that being based on a true story affords the film license to tell such a dark story with abandon; in fact, the manner of storytelling – cruel, taut, inhuman – islands the narrative far from personal reality.
There is almost nothing King Cobra has to say about the porn industry that wasn’t covered more enjoyably, and more thoughtfully, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Boogie Nights. If you go and watch this expecting anything other than an unenthusiastically nasty true-crime exercise, you’ll most likely leave sorely disappointed.
Image: Justin Kelly